THE BEST FISHING BOOKS OF ALL TIME: INSTALLMENT #2

Introduction

The Corona virus has afforded time for many of us to fish and to also catch up on reading and reflect. While on the water when I catch a fish using a technique or fly I read about years ago, I find myself reminiscing about the best books on fishing I have had the pleasure of reading.  Some taught me a new technique like using a dry/dropper while others were fiction and just pure reading pleasure.  If you search online, you will find numerous of lists of the Top 10, 25, and even 50 angling books.   Of course these lists change from decade-to-decade as new works are published, older books fade out fashion, or interests change.  For example, the 1970s and 80s saw a plethora of tomes like Swisher and Richards Selective Trout that embraced a more scientific approach to fishing.  Once you were done reading some of these, you were nearly qualified as an entomologist.  Far fewer of that ilk have been published in the last decade.  The list I offer here is entirely personal, and given my advanced age, I hope it introduces some of the best of past, especially pre-2000 publications, to the up and coming, energetic angling young bloods of today (AKA anyone under 60). 

The format I have chosen is somewhat different than most other “best” lists.  I find it hard to compare a serious literary work of someone like Tom McGuane’s The Longest Silence with a funny-bone tickling raucous tale such as Skinny Dip by Carl Hiassen or a technical tome on caddis flies by Gary LaFontaine.  So I have divided my list into a baker’s dozen categories with a few select books in each.  I end with a category of books I have yet to read but are “musts.”  I will be posting the list in a series of three or four installments.  I hope you enjoy perusing my choices, and would welcome hearing of any additions you may have. 

The first installment in the series focused on those I consider the Best Literature.  This second installment covers three categories from the list below:  Storytellers, Anthologies, and Oddities.

Installment 1 Link:  https://hooknfly.com/2020/08/01/the-best-fishing-books-of-all-time/

The Categories:

Best Literature

The Storytellers

Anthologies

Oddities

Funny Bone Ticklers

Zen of Fishing

How To/Technical Expertise

Science and Entomology of Fishing

Travel

Saltwater

History of Fishing

Fish That Shaped World History

The “To Read” List

THE STORYTELLERS

Some of the best fishing books are those penned by accomplished storytellers—writers who relate short, entertaining vignettes and brief evocative descriptions of the angling experience.  John Gierach immediately springs to mind among today’s authors.  Most anglers have heard of him and enjoy his work as I do, but what about Robert Traver?  Traver and Gierach are at the tip top of my list of storytellers, always able to make me laugh and reflect as I recognize my own trials and tribulations on the waters chasing trout.

Trout Madness, being a dissertation on the symptoms and pathology of this incurable disease by one of its victims–Robert Traver (Judge John Voelker)

Before Gierach, Robert Traver was the king of spinning  fishing yarns.  Trout Madness was published in 1960 under the pseudonym of Robert Traver.  In a bygone era when hardly anyone made a living out of writin gabout fishing, attorney John Voelker (AKA Robert Traver) published Trout Madness which recounts through 21 short stories his adventures and misadventures on the streams and ponds of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  One of the most entertaining is the piece delving into the history of his fishing car, Buckshot.  By 1958 Voelker had already established himself as a gifted writerwith his best-seller, Anatomy of a Murder, a true story that Otto Preminger turned into an Academy Award nominee starring James Stewart. Voelker soon thereafter retired as a justice of the Michigan Supreme Court to focus on his writing.  He followed up with another popular angling book, Trout Magic.

Trout Bum–John Gierach

Gierach is a worthy successor to Robert Traver as the sports’ premier storyteller and his early work, Trout Bum,  is one of his best.  A Colorado resident, Gierach published Trout Bum in 1986, popularizing that term in a book that has become a cult classic and is still my favorite among his prolific productions.  In a series of short stories and tales he captures in a witty fashion the essence, delight, and sometimes comic nature of fly fishing.  Since then he has published 19 other books in the same vein, one about every two-three years. His latest has just been released—Dumb Luck And The Kindness Of Strangers.  All are good reads but are somewhat repetitive.  One of my favorite fishing quips comes from an angler in one of Gierach’s tales, a definition of a fishing buddy:  “Yeah he can be an a**hole, but we get along most of the time.”  As an aside, Gierach probably has the most mispronounced last name among fishing authors.  Variations include Gee-rack, Guy-rish, Guy-rack, etc.  It’s Gear-ash from his own mouth in a musky fishing video that can be found on the web.

ANTHOLOGIES

Fishing has generated more books and literature than any other sport, reflecting its long history and millions of practitioners.  Perhaps as much as any genre of writing, fishing also has a surfeit of anthologies—a collection of stories by multiple authors in one book.   Usually made up of short stories or brief excerpts from a book, anthologies are perfect when you only have a limited time to read a story or two and don’t feel like plunging into a book-length commitment.  They are also a great way to introduce yourself to new writers and their works that you may decide are worth delving into.  I discovered Jim Harrison in that way.  I have listed three of my favorite anthologies below, each compiled by a noted author or publisher who is also an avid, accomplished angler.  Get one, settle back, and enjoy. 

Fisherman’s Bounty/The Gigantic Book of Fishing Stories/Hook, Line, and Sinker—Nick Lyons

Perhaps more than any one person in the modern area, Nick Lyons is responsible for identifying and publishing gifted angling writers.  Lyons was a college English professor and then an executive editor for Crown Publishers, a major press. He went on to create his own publishing company, Lyons Press, which has earned a deserved reputation as the leading publisher of quality fishing books.  His first anthology and still one of the best is Fisherman’s Bounty which came out in 1970.  It includes writings from historical figures like Izaak Walton as well as stories from modern day authors who changed the course of fly fishing with their books in the 1950s-60s like Ernest Schwiebert (Matching the Hatch), and Vincent Marinaro (In The Ring of The Rise).  More recent anthologies like The Gigantic Book of Fishing Stories, which sports an incredible array of writers from Rudyard Kipling to Tom McGuane and John McPhee, and his latest, Hook, Line, and Sinker, carry on his tradition of wonderful anthologies.

Because of his tremendous impact on fly fishing literature, I am including this illuminating interview with Lyons from Fly Dreamers:

Fd: When did you start fly fishing? Can you tell us your memories from those days?

Nick: I had fished from before memory but I only started to fly fish seriously in my early 20s and was immediately mad for it. I had no instruction and found that I could not cast well when I threaded the line through the keeper ring. I fished in Michigan when I was in graduate school and caught nothing in the great AuSable. Back in NYC I fished a little club stream in New Jersey to which an army friend belonged–and finally began to get some fish, which made it all more worthwhile.

Fd: What are the reasons that made you start writing about fishing? What do you think drives people to do that?

Nick: I had been writing literary criticism but one day in my thirties I took a memorable trip to the Beaverkill with a remarkable new friend and immediately wrote “Mecca” and a little later “First Trout, First Lie” about a trout I had gigged in a small Catskill stream in mid-summer. FIELD & STREAM published them a few months later, my first writing about fishing. I loved the new “voice” I had found, so far from the heavy academic prose I had been writing.

Fd: How did you start working on publishing fly fishing books? How did you come across such great authors and works on the early days?

Nick: I was teaching English at Hunter College and (with four young children) took a second job at Crown Publishers. I wanted books closer to my heart than the commercial fare they published. Art Flick’s STREAMSIDE GUIDE was out of print and I wanted a copy so I got the rights and that was the first. Crown asked me to put together an anthology and I compiled FISHERMAN’S BOUNTY and happily this put me in touch with a whole host of first-rate writers, like Marinaro, whom I published next.

Fd: What can you tell us about the process of finding new authors?

Nick: There’s no substitute for reading widely, in all of the magazines on the subject, and in my case I asked just about everyone I came in contact with–or published–for their suggestions and pursued matters from there. I always leaned toward the literary but for non-fiction I tried to think of what “needed” to be done–Lefty Kreh on saltwater fly fishing, Swisher-Richards on new patterns–always the best I could find on worthwhile subjects.

Fd: Out of curiosity, what are the all-time top selling books on fly fishing?

Nick: SELECTIVE TROUT, ART FLICK’S STREAMSIDE GUIDE, PRACTICAL FISHING KNOTS, and THE ORVIS FLY FISHING GUIDE.

Fd: What are your thoughts on the amount of information available on the internet in contrast to the magazine and book industry?

Nick: I try not to follow the internet and consider most of it too simplified, in too many “bites”.

Fd: What are your all-time favorite books and authors related to the outdoors and fly fishing? What recent books would you recommend?

Nick: Ted Leeson, THE HABIT OF RIVERS. Roderick Haig Brown, A RIVER NEVER SLEEPS. Norman Maclean, A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT. Tom McGuane, anything he writes.

Fd: You have published the collected writings of Hemingway and Traver on fishing. Do you think it is possible, in these times, to have another outdoors writer of this level? Or having one that achieves the success of Norman Maclean’s A River Runs Through It?

Nick: I doubt if anyone can match the sales of Maclean, which had a movie to push it along. But McGuane is every bit their equal, though very different.

Fd: How do you envision the future of fly fishing literature?

Nick: It’s getting harder to winnow out the best, with so many people in the pool–but you don’t need a lot of strong writers at any given time, and there are a lot I like. Practical writing is becoming more sophisticated in technical matters–color photography, for example.

Fd: A good fishing story is surely not enough, and a good writer still needs something to write about. What advice would you give to those who want to write about fly fishing?

Nick: Always read the best being written by others–and write from the heart not for the purse. Quintilian says: The heart makes the eloquence.

Fd: Being a key figure in the fly fishing editorial world, have you got a particular aim or message to give out to the global fly fishing community?

Nick: Write less, write more carefully, read the best, write from the heart, avoid all fads.

Fd: Do you consider it important to know about fly fishing history? Why?

Nick: Sure. Faulkner says the past is never past and fly fishing is no exception: knowledge of the past colors everything we do. I’m a passionate supporter of our museums, which preserve and celebrate the past. Some writers, like Theodore Gordon, are eminently wise and readable and often tell us much that we’re forgotten.

Fd: Some fishing. What is your favorite kind of fly fishing (dries, nymphing, streamers, etc.) and what are your favorite spots?

Nick: Dry flies on chalk streams and spring creeks (like a couple I know in Montana).

Fd: As a final point, what does fly fishing mean to you?

Nick: Too much to answer briefly. I guess all the books and articles I’ve written address this. Or I hope so.

Silent Season—Russell Chatham

Russell Chatham, who passed away recently, was a prolific writer of fishing books, but was best known for his beautiful, highly-sought-after artwork that often featured outdoor and angling scenes.  His anthology, first published in 1978 and again in 1988, introduced me to a bevy of writers I had never heard of like Jim Harrison, Jack Curtis, and Harmon Henkin.  It also includes Tom McGuane’s jewel, “The Longest Silence.” A bonus is the illustrations in the book by Chatham.

Into The Backing—Incredible True Stories About The Big Ones That Got Away—And The Ones That Didn’t—Lamar Underwood

What angler could possibly resist a book with this title?  An interesting anthology as it has a unifying them—fighting big fish!  Underwood definitely has the credentials to pull together such a tome—he is the former editor-in-chief of Sports Afield and Outdoor Life. This is one of my favorite anthologies with a smorgasbord of authors ranging from Joe Brooks (The Hat Trick), Roderick Haig-Brown (Episodes from Fisherman’s Spring), and Zane Grey (The Dreadnaught Pool). 

ODDITIES

There is a select group of fishing books that can only be described as outside-the-box oddities.  After reading them you can only shake your head, bemused and semi-bewildered at the fertile mind of the authors who concocted these books and tales.  The first in particular is a mind-blower!

Trout Fishing In America—Richard Brautigan

Leading the pack by a fair margin is Richard Brautigan’s Trout Fishing In America.  Brautigan, a cross between a beatnick and hippie, was a counter-culture, youth movement icon in the riotous 1960s.  Trout Fishing America was published in 1967 and sold over 4 million copies—probably a record among modern angling books.  This is a challenging book to read.  Trout Fishing In America turns out to be a person searching for the meaning of life.  If you can get by this and other odd constructs in the book (perhaps with the assistance of a little cannabis), you will discover some real gems like my favorite vignette, “The Hunchback Trout.”  Brautigan was clearly an avid angler as well as a writer, poet, and free spirit.

Blues—John Hersey

John Hersey was a ground-breaking journalist/writer who first made his mark at the end of WWII with a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Bell For Adano, a story about the Allied occupation of a town in Sicily.  He soon followed with a magazine-length article in the New Yorker  titled  “Hiroshima” that recounted the impact of the first atomic bomb on six Japanese citizens.  Hersey went on to write numerous other books and articles and teach writing courses at Yale.  He is probably the only angling writer who has been honored with a Postal Service stamp in his name.  Somehow in the midst of all this prolific production, he penned a book of angling for Bluefish, a quarry prized by saltwater fishermen for their aggressive fighting spirit.  As one reviewer noted, it is a paean to Bluefish that is chummed with  “gobbets of ichthyology, oceanography, seamanship, and fishing lore.”  The organization of the book is rather artificial—a sage old fisherman and neophyte angler meet serendipitously on a dock and then spend a summer on 12 fishing trips chasing Blues.  For each trip Hersey weaves in fishing tips, thoughts on what motivates anglers, random ocean tidbits, recipes for preparing Bluefish dinners, poems from poets who wrote about fish, and an eloquent, prescient warning about the coming environmental disaster for the seas.  Eclectic indeed, but a good read.

The Feather Thief, Obsession, and the Natural History Heist of the Century—Kirk Wallace Johnson

Another book by a journalist, The Feather Thief could be in a class of its own.  It is an oddity not because of the idiosyncrasies of the author and his writing style,  but because of the outrageously bizarre true tale it tells.  Try to imagine a secretive group of fly tiers who will do just about anything and pay any price to get their hands on plumes from endangered and extinct birds so they can tie their gaudy traditional salmon flies to exact specifications set forth in antique books.  Then further imagine among them a young accomplished American flautist/fly tier who in 2009 breaks into a branch of the British Museum outside London and steals the skins of hundreds of rare birds, some centuries old that were gathered by renowned explorers and naturalists.  He proceeds to sell them for thousands of dollars.  Will he be caught and punished?  What happened to all those priceless skins?  It all adds up to an intriguing true-crime novel.

Installment Three will cover Funny Bone Ticklers, Zen of Fishing, and How To/Technical Expertise

THE BEST FISHING BOOKS OF ALL TIME

August 2020

Introduction

The Corona virus has afforded many of us the time to fish and also catch up on reading and do some reflecting on life. When I’m on the water and catch a fish using a technique or fly I read about years ago, I sometimes find myself reminiscing about the best books on fishing I have had the pleasure of reading.  Some taught me a new technique like using a dry/dropper while others were fiction and just pure reading pleasure.  If you search online, you will find numerous of lists of the Top 10, 25, and even 50 angling books.   Of course these lists change from decade-to-decade as new works are published, older books fade out fashion, or interests change.  For example, the 1970s and 80s saw a plethora of tomes like Swisher and Richards Selective Trout that embraced a more scientific approach to fishing.  Once you were done reading some of these, you were nearly qualified as an entomologist.  Far fewer of that ilk have been published in the last decade.  The list I offer here is entirely personal, and given my advanced age, I hope it introduces some of the best of past, especially pre-2000 publications, to the up and coming, energetic angling young bloods of today (AKA anyone under 40). 

The format I have chosen is somewhat different than most other “best” lists.  I find it hard to compare a serious literary work of someone like Tom McGuane’s The Longest Silence with a funny-bone tickling raucous tale such as Skinny Dip by Carl Hiassen or a technical tome on caddis flies by Gary LaFontaine.  So I have divided my list into a baker’s dozen categories with a few select books in each.  I end with a category of books I have yet to read but are “musts.”  I will be posting the list in a series of three or four installments.  I hope you enjoy perusing my choices, and would welcome hearing of any additions you may have.

The Categories:

Best Literature

The Storytellers

Anthologies

Oddities

Funny Bone Ticklers

Zen of Fishing

How To/Technical Expertise

Science and Entomology of Fishing

Travel

Saltwater

History of Fishing

Fish That Shaped World History

The “To Read” List

Best Literature

I distinguish this category from others by several measures.  First, does the book and writing appeal to non-anglers?  If it does, that definitely says something.  Second, what do other accomplished authors who have written acclaimed books have to say about it?  The authors on my list below are real craftsmen with words.  And finally, was it interesting enough to be made into a movie? 

1.  The Longest Silence:  A Life In Fishing—Thomas McGuane

The Longest Silence is a series of keenly observed essays about the lessons and insights McGuane gleaned from a lifetime spent fishing.  James Harrison, a peripatetic poet, novelist, and essayist who himself wrote about fishing and whose novel Legends of the Fall was made into a movie, calls it the best book on angling of all time.  I must agree.  In his essays, McGuane takes us around the world fishing for tarpon to trout and introduces us to some memorable characters along the way.  McGuane, who lives in Montana and continues to write and fish, wrote several other notable books on the outdoors and fishing including his debut novel, The Sporting Club, a dark comedy about the intergenerational conflict between young whippersnapper Baby Boomers and the Greatest Generation.  Sound familiar Millenials and GenXers?  Another good read, Ninety Two In The Shade, a tale of a young fishing guide running into trouble in the Florida Keys was made into a movie starring Peter Fonda and Warren Oates.

2.  A River Runs Through It—Norman Maclean

Norman MacLean was an English professor at University of Chicago while I was studying there to become a lawyer.  He never wrote a book until he retired, but when he did in 1976, Maclean produced a lyrical, heartbreaking semi-biographical story that became a blockbuster.  One line in A River Runs Through It describes how many of us anglers feel about our sport: “I am haunted by waters.”  In 1992 Robert Redford directed an excellent movie that was true to the book starring Brad Pitt and Tom Skerritt.   As an aside, Maclean’s son John penned a riveting book, Fire On The Mountain, about a wildfire that took the lives of 14 firefighters near Glenwood Springs, Colorado.

3.  The River Why—David James Duncan

How can any angler resist a book that mixes fly fishing, family, and baseball?  However, this is a book that has probably been read by more non-anglers than any other on this list.  The main character Gus is a child fishing prodigy who after he graduates from school sets out to fish his brains out according to a rigourous schedule on the mythical Tamanawis River.  After he finds the body of a dead angler, Gus starts his real journey in life, finding love along the way.  The author Duncan wrote several other acclaimed novels, and The River Why was turned into a movie starring Zach Gifford, Dallas Roberts, and William Hunt that unfortunately did not live up to the book.

4.  Big Two-Hearted River—Ernest Hemingway

Hemingway won a Nobel Prize for his story Old Man And The Sea, so I risk sacrilege by saying for my money his Big Two-Hearted River, the concluding installment in his semi-autobiographical series The Nick Adams Stories, is a better one, especially for anglers.  This tale is about a young man, Nick Adams, just back from World War I and suffering from shell shock, who takes off on a fishing trip to clear his head.  Hemingway’s writing in Big Two-Hearted River is his usual spare, pure style.  As a young law school student in Chicago and aspiring fly fisherman, I loved that title, read the book, and set out to fish the Big Two-Hearted River in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  Fortunately, before I set out I learned that like many in the fishing fraternity, Hemingway was damned if he was going to give away the name and location of a favorite fishing spot.  It was actually the Fox River which I fished one summer between classes, a canoe trip that featured clouds of man-eating mosquitos, few fish, and ended in near disaster when our canoe flipped and we lost our paddles 10 miles from civilization in a dense forest.  Fortunately soon after we started to walk out I spotted one paddle in a sweeper, and we were able to retrieve it and float to safety.

5.  My Moby Dick—William Humphrey

Of all the books on this list, this spare short one is probably the least known and rarely mentioned in the same breath as any of the others.  But as one reviewer wrote, “one of the finest fishing stories ever published, My Moby Dick is a small masterpiece about a whale of a fish.”  In a nutshell, Humphrey spends an entire summer chasing with his fly rod a huge one-eyed trout that he serendipitously stumbles on in a small creek near his vacation home.  Along the way, through his elegant, erudite writing, English professor Humphrey shows us what real literature and writing are like even in telling a fish story.  Humphrey came to writing My Moby Dick after penning acclaimed non-angling books such as Home From The Hill and The Ordways.  Thank our lucky stars he was also an aspiring angler and shared this hilarious tale with us.  It is chock full of wry, smart observations about fly fishing and anglers who pursue trout. Here is but one example:

I had never known a fly fisherman. Since my ignominious failure to make myself one and my retrogression to worms, I had not wanted to know one. …But even if I had known one, known him well, I would not have trusted myself to seek his help now. Indeed, I would have shunned him altogether. He would have surely notice my state of excitement. His curiosity would have been piqued. My eagerness, my impatience to learn and to put my knowledge to work, would have given me away. A wild look, that of one who has gazed on wonders, haunted my eyes in those days. Fly fisherment are a suspicious crew, and their suspicions run on one thing. My secret would have been guessed, and I would have been shadowed to its soure in Shadow Brook.”

Honorable Mention:

A couple of other books that could be on this list are Howell Raines’, Fly Fishing Through The Mid-Life Crisis and Harry Middleton’, The Earth Is Enough: Growing Up In A World of Flyfishing,Trout, and Old Men.  Raines had a storied career with the New York Times before he penned this book after a nasty divorce, producing a beautiful meditation on the “disciplined, beautiful, and unessential activity” we call fly fishing.  Middleton’s book is a memoir of his growing up in the Ozarks and chasing trout with the two old codgers who raise him.  In the process he learns not only the art of fly fishing but also about the beauty and value of nature in life.

The next installment of Best Books will cover Storytellers, Anthologies, and Oddities.

Nomenclature Nag: A Big Beautiful Trout Is NOT A Toad, Slab, or Pig/Hog

July 2020

One of the real satisfactions and enjoyment I get from my Facebook fishing groups is reading posts from young 20- and 30-something anglers like my son as they hone their fly fishing skills while catching (and releasing) some beautiful muscular trout here in Colorado. But I have to admit to an urge to scream and gnash my teeth when these young bloods refer to their trophies as Toads, Slabs, and Pigs/Hogs. I think some of this jargon may have been imported from booyah southern bass fishermen, but whatever the case it seems sacrilegious to use four words in the English language that conjure up ugliness to describe something so rare and stunning or to introduce those terms into the gentle and civilized sport of fly fishing! So in the spirit of imparting some tips on nomenclature from an irascible septuagenarian who has been chasing trout for over 50 years, I offer the following guidance on acceptable terminology for describing your trophy.

First, a short primer on what is NOT allowed:

TOAD—this is what a toad looks like:

SLAB—this is what a slab looks like:

PIG/HOG—this is what a pig/hog looks like:

Now that those pejorative descriptive terms have been banished from your youthful vocabularies, here are some suggestions for more appropriate adjectives to describe your outsized catch:  Monster, Huge, Gigantic, Gargantuan, Colossal, Titanic, Whopper.   And for those of you who want to project a more erudite, cultured aura, please consider Leviathan or Brobdingnagian. 

Thank you, dudes, for considering this rant from an increasingly curmudgeonly old codger. Please resume fishing at your earliest opportunity.

Searching For Fish And Solitude In South Park: The Likeable Lilliputians Of Lost Creek

June 2020

For my earlier articles about seeking fish and solitude in South Park, see my blog from October 2019 and May 2020: https://hooknfly.com/2020/06/07/on-the-road-to-riches-finding-fish-and-solitude-in-south-park/ and https://hooknfly.com/2019/10/07/mission-impossible-searching-for-fish-and-solitude-in-south-park/

Undaunted, I continue my quest for fish and solitude in South Park, Colorado, a vast National Heritage Area whose waters like the South Platte’s Dream Stream and Eleven Mile Canyon attract hordes of anglers like moths to the proverbial flame.  Now admittedly they do catch some trophies, but also find at times six-foot social distancing is a real challenge to achieve.  Not exactly my cup of tea. 

For over twenty years now I have traveled from my cabin near Salida to Denver and back for work and now more often to see my #1 sweetheart granddaughter Aly.  Every time I whizzed by a sign on U.S. Highway 285 near Kenosha Pass beckoning me to the Lost Creek Wilderness. 

Lost Creek Campground–Gateway To Lost Creek Fishing

The preserve, a vast 120,000-acre sanctuary, was created in 1980 in Pike National Forest by the 1980 Colorado Wilderness Act.  Parts of it had been set aside as early as 1963 as a protected scenic area.  It takes its name from the small stream that flows for miles in a wide valley then mysteriously disappears into a jumble of rocks and boulders, only to reappear miles downstream as Goose Creek.    This is not your typical Colorado high-mountain wilderness with jagged peaks covered with snow well into summer.  Instead the more gentle landscape, most of it below treeline, is marked with random knobs, domes, pinnacles, and arches. 

The Gentle Wilderness

There was never much mining or logging here, again in contrast to many other wilderness areas, just mostly grazing.  In the late 1800s there was a uniquely western half-baked reservoir scheme to dam Lost Creek underground where it intersects Reservoir Gulch.  Not surprisingly, the enterprise failed, a few remaining structures testifying to the folly.

Fortunately before it disappears, Lost Creek seems to offer the prospect of over five miles of fishing in a picture-perfect setting.  I figure it’s high time to explore the creek.  My on-line sleuthing finds a lot of information about hiking in the miles of trails in the wilderness, but very little about fishing the creek.  A couple of posts do mention eager brook trout, and that’s enough to tip the scales in favor of some additional on-the-water piscatorial research.

Continue reading

Fishing Through The Corona Crisis

March 2020

I’m an old coot who has been through my share of crises, national and otherwise, over my 70-plus years.  During my college days there were the marches and raucous demonstrations over the Vietnam War culminating in the horrific Kent State shootings that sent the nation reeling. 

Flower Power Ends Vietnam War

They were followed by the race riots where Chicago and other big cities burned.  I remember well sitting in long lines for gas during the 70’s Arab oil embargo with fights breaking out when guys tried to cut in line, then a few years later nervously watching news of the Iran hostage crisis. 

Arab Oil Embargo Gas Crisis

I kept right on fishing through it all, including fly fishing through my mid-life crisis in the 90s (tipping my hat to Howell Raines who chronicled this time for all of us angling boomers).  Then there was 9-11 when I got stuck on the runway at O’Hare Airport in Chicago for three hours only upon disembarking to watch incredulously on a TV in the terminal the terrorist-piloted jet crash into the second Twin Tower in New York City.  I was thoroughly shaken and stranded in Chicago for three days, but back on the water a week later.  Fast forward to the Great Recession.  That crisis too would pass.

But none of those crises compares in my mind with the Coronavirus calamity sweeping the nation and world.   It’s an existential threat when despite all the years under your belt, you have no established frame of reference for anything like it. The only thing remotely comparable in my life is the first time when I was in California and a big earthquake hit.  It’s almost impossible to regain your equilibrium when the basic rock-solid reference point of your being shifts ominously beneath your feet.  It generates a sense of dread that is hard to shake.

I had that moment in March as the Coronavirus infections began to spread like wildfire in Washington and New York then mushrooming in Florida where I spend the winter.  Being among the so-called “at risk” population, I hid away early in my little abode near Everglades City.  But after a few days of reading and watching Chicago P.D. reruns, I was going more than a little stir crazy.   I figured a fishing trip into the wilds of the Everglades out of my home base on Chokoloskee Island might be the answer, the mental salve that I needed.  I have found time and again solitude and fighting fish are the antidote for many ailments.  Fortunately I could get away in my kayak to close-by spots without having to fill-up with gas or cross paths with other anglers at boat ramps. But the weather and tides were conspiring against me.  The wind was blowing like a banshee, and the tides were super low during the prime fishing times.  That meant I couldn’t risk getting out on Chokoloskee Bay or probably wouldn’t have enough water to get into some of my favorite backcountry creeks.  And of course the authorities were issuing dire warnings as they belatedly closed beaches and restaurants in Florida.  What’s an angler to do??

As I plotted my next move, I also knew I had to respect the admonitions about social distancing and staying sheltered away from the madding crowds to protect others and myself.  To make things even more challenging, several of my favorite routes weren’t options as nearby state parks and many public boat ramps had wisely closed.   I needed a paradigm shift. 

Then if by magic, a friend who lives just outside Everglades City called and asked if I’d like to try fishing on a sheltered freshwater lake that his home borders on, one with public access.  Not an angler himself, he mentioned that he’d seen some big fish swimming and rising along the shoreline during one of his walks.  Probably bass, I thought.  He added he’d never seen a boat out on the lake.  No wind, no tides, big fish, and no people—sounded like the perfect Corona escape!  And it was!! 

Big Bass Hiding In Plain Sight

I rerigged my snook rod/reel outfits with lighter leaders and dug out my old bass fishing lures that I hadn’t used for years.  I tied on an old reliable baby bass-colored fluke on a 1/8 oz. jig head.  Bass are cannibals so it seemed like a good bet.  No one was on the lake when I shoved off in the early morning in my kayak.  Ten minutes later I had managed nary a strike when I hooked the bottom off a stand of sawgrass….or at least that’s what I thought until it moved.  Five minutes of chaos later, I landed one of my biggest bass ever—pushing seven pounds.

Lunker Largemouth Bass

The bonus was the wildlife that I crossed paths with as I paddled the beautiful clear spring-fed lake.

Fellow Angler
Gator Time

That outing started me on a quixotic quest to find more hidden freshwater bass lakes in my immediate neighborhood overlooked and ignored by saltwater anglers like myself pursuing snook and tarpon–ones I could get to and fish from my kayak without endangering anyone. It didn’t take long with a little sleuthing to find a hidden series of lakes just down the road from me. This one produced some exotics from South America–a beautiful big Peacock Bass and a colorful Mayan Cichlid, AKA Atomic Sunfish.

An Exotic Invader–A Peacock Bass

Atomic Sunfish

And the bonus in one was a surprise snook, a saltwater fish that can survive in freshwater, that went almost 30-inches. The mystery is how she got there miles from saltwater. But then whose to argue??

Surprise Snook!

I have even started chasing toothy gar in the canals along the Tamiami Trail a few minutes from my home.  Fortunately I have been able to enlist the help of a human pack mule to haul my kayak into more remote spots. He works for good red wine.

More about those bass, gar, and hidden lakes in the future…and believe me they are mental antidotes for the pandemic.

The whole experience reminded me that life goes on, offering new patterns and adventures along the way, often in your backyard. Mind you, I am not advocating straying miles from home like the knuckleheads from the Miami area who are evading the state and local stay-at-home orders and closed boat ramps there to descend on Everglades City and Chokoloskee Island with its populace overwhelmingly made up of vulnerable senior citizens. The nearest hospital is over an hour away. Stay close to home so you aren’t putting yourself and other people at risk. There’s so much about this virus that doctors and scientists are just discovering—like some people who are infected never exhibit any symptoms.

If you live in Florida, and especially in the Miami or another urban area, take another look at those nearby canals.  Monster Peacock Bass and big Mayan Cichlids are probably lurking and hungry.  Take the cue from anglers in Denver who are restricted from going out to the mountains to fish so they are catching carp AND big trout in the South Platte that runs through the heart of the city.  And whatever you do, just be careful out there.